Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2024

UMC suspends 6 staff members pending investigation

Hospital also notifies 100 patients whose personal information was compromised

Updated Friday, Dec. 11, 2009 | 3:10 p.m.

Six UMC staff members have been suspended for their treatment of a pregnant woman seeking help in the emergency room and more than 100 people have been notified their personal information might have been compromised.

University Medical Center officials today responded to the two ongoing investigations into emergency room practices at the region’s only public hospital.

The staff members were suspended pending the outcome of a hospital investigation into how Roshunda Abney, 25, was treated when she came seeking help Nov. 30 at UMC, hospital chief executive officer Kathy Silver said.

Abney has said she was ignored for so long at the hospital that she went home and gave birth to a premature baby that later died.

Others who were in the waiting room have corroborated accounts by Abney and her fiancé that they were ignored for several hours until they finally left.

Silver pledged that such practices won’t happen again.

“This is not something that we take lightly. It’s an emotional subject to talk about and we don’t like the fact that we didn’t live up to the expectations of our patients,” she said.

“What we want everyone to know, whether you’ve ever been a patient here or you might some day be a patient here, is that we expect to deliver the highest quality care and we expect to do it with dignity and compassion and there’s no exception to that,” Silver said.

In response to the second investigation, UMC sent out more than 100 notification letters today letting people know their personal information might have been illegally shared with others.

Silver was called this week before the state’s Legislative Committee on Health Care as a result of Las Vegas Sun stories that exposed an allegedly systematic leak of patient information at the hospital.

The 100 letters sent out today notify 71 patients who used the hospital’s Trauma Center Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 and people who accompanied the patients and provided personal information to the hospital.

Those getting the letters have been offered free credit monitoring for a year, Silver said.

One of the reasons the hospital took this long to notify patients was because of the time it took to negotiate a contract with Experian to provide the monitoring, Silver said. A second letter will be sent in the next couple of days explaining how to use the service now that the contract is complete.

The FBI has launched an investigation into the violations of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA — which includes penalties of up to $250,000 in fines and 10 years in jail.

“The FBI feels that they have made some progress in the investigation — they don’t exactly keep us daily updated — but we do feel that they are handling the investigation appropriately and we expect to get to the bottom of this,” Silver said.

Meanwhile, UMC has added new procedures to improve the protection of patient information, Silver said.

“We’ve taken steps to secure the areas of the hospitals where we felt we were vulnerable or where the information was vulnerable,” she said.

To enhance the protection of patient information, UMC employees will be required to enter a personal identification number on copy machines in patient care areas so photocopies can be tracked and audited, he said. Also, hospital officials are evaluating where additional electronic door access controls might be needed to further improve the security of patient information, spokesman Dan Kulin said.

Silver said there a number of people involved with the care of patients in the trauma center, including police and EMTs, so it is possible that someone other than a hospital employee shared the personal information.

If the source of the leak is found, Silver said, the hospital will insist the person is criminally prosecuted.

“If, as it has been suggested, there have been data leaks, then we will get to the bottom of it and we will take the appropriate action,” she said. “These are criminal offenses, they’re very serious.”

Anyone with information about the release of patient information or patients who have received unsolicited contact from a law firm are asked to call the UMC hot line at 1-888-691-0772 or contact UMC Privacy Officer Hope Hammond at 383-3854.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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